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Editorial | Island Voices

Invasive, hoofed animals fall into policy gap

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Historically it has been permissible for everyone from pig farmers to the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources’ game program to release large animals onto unfenced land and then walk away.

Residents of Waikoloa on the Big Island now join scores of people across the islands coping with the unfair reality that they must pay for the careless decisions of other people to release invasive animals.

As Waikoloa Village Association manager Jim Whillock discovered, no county, state or federal agency will help the community deal with the problem ("Donkey problems increasing," Star-Advertiser, Sept. 12). The policy just isn’t there.

By now it should be obvious to everyone that the state is failing its people by giving so little attention to the huge problem of invasive hoofed animals. Uncounted thousands of pigs, goats, sheep, deer, donkeys and cattle are racking up costs in the watersheds, crops, back yards and roads.

The problem is only getting worse, and no one is working on the root of the problem: the lack of a legal framework for animal control across all land ownerships.

People continue to look in vain to DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) for solutions to large-animal problems. It is, after all, DOFAW’s hunting restrictions and "release and forget" game management decisions that resulted in destructive animals being spread across the islands, on both public and private lands. The game program removes take limits only after it is too late, as with axis deer on Maui and mouflon on Mauna Kea.

Yet DOFAW administrator Paul Conry has testified repeatedly before the Legislature that the agency is not responsible for animals not on DLNR-managed lands.

A more accurate assessment is that DOFAW’s failed game management is responsible for most of the animals being on non-DLNR-managed lands.

One would expect the agency to be working actively with partners on a strategy to control game mammal overpopulation.

I met with Mr. Conry on Aug. 25 and asked him how he sees DLNR fitting into any coordinated state animal control to benefit all lands, including agricultural. His response was, "How do bag limits 15 miles away affect agriculture?"

Woe to the landowner who is burdened with the results of DOFAW’s game program.

Donkeys are not game mammals but they fall into the same policy void. Everyone wants balance and a vibrant cultural tradition, but invasive species are out of balance by definition, and cannot be managed like the family dog. Unless high costs and poor results are acceptable to all involved, control must be focused and intense.

Like feral pigs and goats, feral donkeys are invasive species. They are large, resource-hungry animals that do a lot of damage. In the policy vacuum surrounding free-roaming hoofed animals, someone always pays more than their fair share for that damage.

It is the responsibility of state government to fix the policy gap that causes its past mistakes to weigh so heavily on today’s residents. Only with supportive policy can public and private interests work together to start cutting these armies of hoofed locusts down to size.

 

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